Judge on St. Pete Free Speech Case: Something Seems Wrong Here.

Video of sign in question displaying free speech clause of Florida Constitution.  This is the message the city fined. (1/22: updated from prior low quality version).

In Pinellas County Court today, Judge Patrick Caddell heard arguments for and against the use of a government’s “Police powers” to pick who may speak and how they may speak in St. Petersburg. The Judge took the case quite seriously, allowing nearly 90 minutes of arguments by attorneys and allowing into the official record materials to support Dr. McKalip’s case. The City of St. Petersburg bans the use of scrolling text, moving text and messages shorter than 60 seconds on electronic messaging signs, for most citizens of St. Petersburg.  However, it has carved out exemptions for itself and for its preferred partners at Tropicana Field. The American Stage Theater, Mahaffey Theater and even at Derby lane. All of the city’s preferred speakers are allowed to have messages lasting 10 seconds each. Nearly all of these preferred city speakers can have scrolling messages and moving images.  The city carved out exemptions for them to do so.

The Judge expressed a great deal of dismay that the City would allow one speaker to put up six messages in a minute, but allow another only one message in 60 seconds.  He offered at the end words to the effect of “something just seems wrong about that” dwell time restriction. The attorney for Dr. McKalip, George Rahdert, pointed out that the city is trying to claim it is granting greater freedom to Dr. McKalip by “allowing” his message to be seen for six times longer, without acknowledging that others have a choice in the matter. The Judge waved his own personal copy of the constitution to the court and stated that the constitution does not grant rights to the people. The people “lend their rights to the government” and expect the government not to abuse its powers. The point he appeared to be making is that the people have a “natural right” to free speech and the government is not entitled to remove that right unless the people also lawfully or constitutionally authorized them to do so. The concept of “natural rights” happens to be celebrated on the monuments erected by Dr. McKalip to the founding principles of our county at Founders Corner. Founders Corner is on the same lot as the signs.

The City claimed that Court rulings found their law constitutional, but failed to mention that there were based on old versions of the sign law before the 2012 revision. In addition, the court cases they referred to were also overcome by later court rulings that support free speech.  The Judge took the case very seriously and will review it over the next ten days offering a ruling sometime after that.

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3 Replies:

  1. Westech

    I would love to hear the city’s rational for allowing certain locations, i.e. the Trop, American Stage, Mahaffey and the dog track a special exemption to violate existing sign law. Methinks there is a city tap-dance in the offing.

  2. ron thompson

    Good deal. Dumb move StPete, I gave them too much credit. I expected that size and distance would be their claim, not individual exceptions (BIG NO-NO).

    It is also my experience that Schools & other govt agencies (library, jail, zoo) can’t be ticketed; but they should voluntarily agree to any city standard when enforced by city commission.

  3. Tom Kulaga

    I agree with you Doctor, seems like favoritism to me. In my HOA world it is known as selective enforcement.

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